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I was in a Reformed house church and heard them making a statement of faith after the meeting. In that, they wrote that only the Father and the Son are to be worshipped and prayed to. They believed that the Holy Spirit is a Person and God himself but insisted that He should not be worshipped or be prayed to. Is that the reformed doctrine?

I found it strange because Paul says:

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I begged the Lord for this, that it might depart from me.

and

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Also, it says in:

Acts 10:19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.

So the Spirit speaks to Peter, but is it only one-way communication? Is the believer not supposed to speak or pray to the Holy Spirit?

Answers also welcomed from non-reformed people about such exempting of the Holy Spirit.

  • Did the persons you refer to quote any scriptures to support their statement ? – Nigel J Oct 15 at 0:31
  • No, when I asked them the same question they said I have to see all verses about it to form the right doctrine and that these things were already settled by church fathers. So just wanted to find out the truth. – Siju George Oct 15 at 0:58
  • And did they say who these 'church fathers' were ? And do these 'church fathers' have more authority than the Apostles, I wonder ? – Nigel J Oct 15 at 1:24
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    No, the general consensus was that these things were already settled and there is no point in going over it again. So I just wanted to find out how these things were settled by whom and when and what the arguments are. – Siju George Oct 15 at 8:58
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    From Book 3 of the CALVIN INSTITUTES, regarding Prayer it says God therefore to be invoked only in the name of Christ.(17)... we pray to God in the name of Christ alone (36) and further on in section 5: "God gives us the guidance of the Spirit in our prayers..." Book 1, chapter 13 is about THE UNITY OF THE DIVINE ESSENCE IN THREE PERSONS. This link provides a full index for all four books and access to the contents: reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/… – Lesley Oct 18 at 7:51
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Anne's answer covered the reason WHY the Holy Spirit is full Deity in accordance with the Trinitarian doctrine, thus showing that the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship, which the true Reformed tradition should hold. To address your related question about praying to the Holy Spirit, I'll focus on the common practice (from the Reformed perspective) of how Christians usually relate with the 3 persons of the Trinity differently in the area of prayer.

The root issue I think is how in prayer the 3 persons of the Trinity have different roles. A clue is from Anne's quote of Michael Horton (emphasis mine):

We worship, pray, confess, and sing our laments and praises TO the Father, IN the Son, BY the Spirit.

The Bible also shows the 3 different roles implied in the quote above:

  • The prayer which Jesus taught us (The Lord's Prayer) is usually directed to God the Father beginning with "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." (Matt 6:9-13).

  • But Jesus ALSO taught us to ask God the Father DIRECTLY in Jesus's name (John 16:23-24) so it's common to end our prayers with the phrase "In Jesus name we pray, Amen". Also we can approach the Father more boldly through Jesus, our mediator (the one who give us righteous standing, i.e. permission), providing us access to God (Eph 2:13,18).

  • Paul's teaching of the Holy Spirit further says that the Holy Spirit helps us to pray, intercedes for us, which Christians usually call "praying by / with the Spirit" (Romans 8:26-27):

    And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.

I found just the right sermon about how prayer relates to the 3 persons of the Trinity: The Trinity and Christian Prayer from the pulpit of Matt Chandler, a Southern Baptist (reformed) pastor. The sermon is by a guest pastor, Sam Allberry. A quote (emphasis mine)

Our entire Christian life is lived BY the Spirit THROUGH the Son TO the Father. That’s going to be the framework for how we think about prayer over the next few minutes. We’re going to think about how prayer is by the Spirit, how prayer is through the Son, and how prayer is to the Father.

Another resource along the lines of the sermon but more explicit about praying to the Holy Spirit is John Piper's answer to the question Does It Matter Which Person of the Trinity We Pray To?. John Piper is one of the most well-known proponent of Reformed theology today. Quotes from the article:

Yes, I think it matters. But being wrong about [it] doesn't mean that it's in the category of damnable sin and maybe not even in the category of sin at all.

...

So the pattern that you find almost uniformly—I say almost uniformly—throughout the New Testament is to pray to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. So we're said to pray "in the Spirit" in Ephesians 6:18. "Pray in the Spirit."

...

But if you got into the habit of praying to the Holy Spirit all the time -- "You're my Benefactor. I pray to you" -- you would be out of sync with the pattern of the New Testament.

So my bottom line answer—and I've been asked this a lot—is to follow in general the pattern of the Bible, namely, pray to the Father in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit, that is, in reliance upon the help of the Spirit.

But, from time to time, "Maranatha! Lord Jesus, come!" is not a bad prayer. And "Holy Spirit, fall upon us and grant us a fresh baptism" is not a bad prayer.

So, in general, pray to the Father; but occasionally, to express their Personhood and your own love for them, telling the Spirit and the Son that you love them and that you would like them to come in fullness is a good thing.

Another variation (but not of the Reformed tradition) of conceiving how prayer is related differently to the 3 persons of the Trinity is in a famous quote about prayer from C.S. Lewis's book Mere Christianity. The quote context is in Book IV (Beyond Personality: Or First Steps In The Doctrine Of The Trinity) where C.S. Lewis is using prayer as an illustration of the practicality of conceiving God as the Trinity in a believer's interaction with God and how the Trinitarian God works in a believer's life to "upgrade" his/her natural life into spiritual life.

I hope the resources above shed light on why Christians don't normally "pray to" the Holy Spirit, but "pray by the Spirit". At the same time, the resources also show how believers need to do full justice to the 3 persons of the Trinity when praying, involving each of the 3 Persons in their different roles. But the Reformed house church went too far by ruling out altogether worship and prayer to the Holy Spirit and in doing so they are out of sync with the rest of the Reformed tradition.

  • Your answer is excellent and clarifies points in my own, with that emphasis, 'TO the Father, IN the Son, BY the Spirit.' Because of the scope of the Q, I was concentrating on whether worship should be given to the HS and what Reformed statements backed that up. I should have pointed out that prayer is a vital part of worship and that Christians cannot pray to the Father without also invoking Christ and the HS who are equally 'bound up' in the Godhead, and in all matters relating to worship of the Godhead. To say the HS is God yet refuse to worship him is a contradiction in terms, at the least. – Anne Oct 18 at 6:16
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    @Anne Re-reading the question, yes, the central issue was how the house church denied worship to the Holy Spirit so you were right to start there. I can only speculate on why they did that though; possibly to counter abuses in some Pentecostal circles that promoted speaking in tongues as a necessary and in some, even a badge of full conversion (you are not a full believer until you show evidence that you have the HS, and that's by showing that you can speak in tongue). So possibly they went too far in countering the abuses. – GratefulDisciple Oct 18 at 15:03
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    That is a valid and important point. Yes, there may be something of a reaction from that house church to excessive emphases on the role of the Holy Spirit by, say, Oneness Pentecostalism. That could explain a lot. We are at a disadvantage answering the Q when we do not have a copy of the written statement of faith of the house church in question. Your points are appreciated by me. – Anne Oct 18 at 17:22
  • Thank you @GratefulDisciple & Anne, you are right their theology has some reactive element in it due to the abuse of prayer to the Holy Spirit as a quick means of getting stuff and the other things that went too far in the pentecostal & charismatic circles! – Siju George Oct 23 at 0:37
  • After giving this info and further discussions the house church changed the doctrinal statement to "Worship only to Triune God". :-) – Siju George Nov 2 at 2:49
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Reformed theology maintains the full deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, so that there is no inferiority attached to the Holy Spirit that would result in the kind of subordination that the ‘Reformed House Church’ you mention makes in its statement of faith. What they claim seems to be but one step removed from ancient movements such as the pneumatomachians, or Macedonians, who denied the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. They were refuted by the Cappadocian ‘Father’ Basil who I will quote later.

At the outset, I will quote from Reformed theologian Michael Horton in his 2011 seminal work, “Pilgrim Theology” (Zondervan, abridged from ‘The Christian Faith’). It is important to understand why, in this century, some Christian groups have moved so far away from the reverence for the blessed Holy Spirit that was held by the early Church, that we get statements such as the one you have stated in your question. Once we grasp what the current theological state is of apparently ‘Reformed’ groups who verbally claim the Holy Spirit to be divine and personal, yet say he is not worthy of worship, then we will see why they are but one step removed from ancient groups denounced by the ‘early Church Fathers’.

In his chapter on the Holy Trinity, subheading “III. Practical Benefits of the Doctrine of the Trinity” Michael Horton writes:

“The Father, the Son, and the Spirit stride across the chapters of redemptive history toward the goal whose origin lies in an eternal pact between them. We worship, pray, confess, and sing our laments and praises to the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit. We are baptized and blessed in the name [singular] of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… We are adopted as children, not of a unipersonal God, but of the Father, as coheirs with his Son as Mediator, united to the Son and his ecclesial body by the Spirit… As we noted earlier, “to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.” [Calvin ‘Institutes’ 1.13.18.] No less than the Father are the Son and the Spirit our Creator and preserver. No less than the Son are the Father and the Spirit our Savior and Lord. No less than the Father and the Son is the Spirit ‘worshipped and glorified.’ “One of the reasons that many Christians have found little practical relevance of this doctrine for their lives is that our public worship – and therefore private piety – has become increasingly emptied of Trinitarian references. As we’ve seen, one of the reasons for the controversies and greater refinements in formulating this doctrine is that monotheistic Jews were now offering worship to Christ and the Holy Spirit as well as to the Father. In addition to the New Testament formulas for baptism and benedictions, ancient prayers and hymns planted the Trinitarian faith deep in the hearts of Christian people across many times and places. Christians throughout the ages didn’t just talk about the Trinity (which still, more often than not, happens today), but to the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit. “Many forms of worship today, however, have dispensed with these rich resources without replacing them with equally Trinitarian elements… To the extent that our experience is not Trinitarian, it is not properly Christian. One of my goals in t his book is to explore the relevance of the Trinity not only across the whole system of Christian doctrine, but in our lives as worshipers and disciples of Jesus Christ. “Many of the differences in faith and practice between Christian denominations and traditions can be attributed at least in part to a tendency to overlook this mutuality of the three persons in every work. It is not surprising that liberalism reduced the Trinity to the Father (as in Adolf von Harnack’s oft-repeated formula, ‘the universal fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of man’) and therefore has had little interest in redemption by a divine Savior or its supernatural application by the Spirit. Deism needed only an Architect, not a Contractor and Builder. The tendency to focus on Christ apart from the Father and the Spirit has also led to a reductionistic view of redemption that is disconnected from creation and consummation. Placing the Spirit at the center – often in reaction against these other tendencies – one can easily treat the Spirit as a freelance operator rather than the one whose mission is to shine the spotlight on the Father’s word concerning his Son’s work. Throughout this volume we will be fleshing out what it means to say that in every external work of the Trinity all things are done by the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit.” (pages 103 to 104)

This lengthy quote shows why apparently ‘Reformed’ groups who verbally claim the Holy Spirit to be divine and personal, yet say he is not worthy of worship are but one step removed from ancient groups denounced by the ‘early Church Fathers’.

Here now is a little bit about the Cappadocian Father Basil the Great, in Roger E. Olson’s book, “The Story of Christian Theology” (InterVarsity Press 1999)

“Finally, Basil turned to Christian experience of salvation and argued against the subordinationists of the Spirit that since the Holy Spirit effects our salvation, he cannot be anything but God. Only God can save… In all things, then, the Holy Spirit is incapable of being parted from the Father and the Son. It is the Spirit who applies God’s salvation to our lives… Of course, Basil was more than willing to allow a certain kind of subordination of the Spirit to the Father as the Father is the eternal fount of all divinity from whom the Son is generated and the Spirit proceeds. The analogy is to the sun and its light and warmth. The latter originate in and from the former without being inferior or ‘after’ it. So the Son of God and the Spirit of God are God’s eternal counterparts sharing in his very being and glory while being subordinate in position but not in being to God the Father… In ‘On The Holy Spirit’ [Basil] declared theological war on those who would in any way deny the Spirit: “But we will not slacken in our defence of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father” (Basil ‘De Spiritu Sancto’, 10.25) “Why (Olson continues) “was the deity of the Holy Spirit so important to Basil? … Basil would cry that to deny the Spirit’s deity is to place a question mark beside the deity of the Father and the Son. In Scripture as in worship as in personal Christian experience, the Holy Spirit is always associated with them as sharing equal honor and dignity, and equal honor and dignity imply equal nature. One cannot be ontologically subordinated to the others without that impinging on the honor and dignity and glory of all the persons of the Godhead.”

To say that the Holy Spirit is God, yet to decline to worship the Holy Spirit, is to make a mockery of the full deity of the Holy Spirit. It amounts to mere verbal declarations of honour, that are without any substance. I would say that Reformed literature is replete with evidence that the Holy Spirit is to be worshipped, prayed to, and addressed with all due reverence as to the Father and as to the Son. I have given but two recent examples of such Reformed literature (one of which harks back to the view of the Cappadocian Father, Basil.) I hope this indicates that the Reformed house church you allude to is on very shaky theological ground indeed, if it wishes to retain its ‘Reformed’ status.

  • Thank you so much, Anne :-) – Siju George Oct 23 at 0:34
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I do not know who it was that organized your house group, but the churches that call themselves "Reformed" hold to the same doctrine of the Trinity that virtually all other Christians do. In this doctrine the Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity, fully God and fully equal with the other persons, making it perfectly OK to pray to and worship him.

There are several branches of Christian Reformed church, and here is a statement of faith from the Reformed Church of North America, as an example. Here is another from the United Reformed Churches of North America.

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